Monday, 28 January 2008

The joys of volunteering and collecting statistics

When you're a community based club, and in particular one in the lower leagues where every cent counts, volunteers of all sorts giving up their time are hard to put a price on. Back in the NSL days, my involvement with the club didn't stretch too far beyond going to games and catching up with the occasional and where possible replay. Since our descent into the doldrums of the VPL, and the emaciated crowd numbers that accompany it, one starts to get to know and appreciate the many behind the scenes people putting the club first.

They range from the quite old, to the quite young, with tasks ranging from ground and venue upkeep, fan mail-outs, website updates and maintenance, and not forgetting the under appreciated work done by various board members. My personal volunteering time is quite minute compared to most of the people who give up their time, but still, every bit that I do makes me feel me ever more connected to the club and its members. Last Saturday, some of us cleaned out boxes, picked up and moved rugby posts, and also continued pursuing my personal niche area, helping to build up the statistical history of the club, no mean feat for as the further back one goes, the more records become sketchy and elusive. Amongst the disappointments of certain frames and pictures not being up (such as one of South's first president Theo Marmaras with Sir Stanley Rous), one also comes across stashes of match day programs, some dating from as far back as 1979, as well as stickers, Ballarat Red Devils key-rings, a Rangers pin, and an audio cassette tape (in Greek) of the 1999 Oceania Cup final (which I am putting onto my PC as I type this).

Currently, some fans (of which I am just one) are attempting to put together a website dealing with as many players, coaches, games, and ephemeral stuff of this great club we can possibly get our hands on. While some of the people involved are doing this stuff as part something specifically South related, my own interest in the area is slightly broader, using my work as part of the Ozfootball site to complement both areas. As part of the process of clearing up the names, positions, and even existences of some players primarily from the 1960s, myself and two other fans traveled out to Oakleigh to a humble souvlaki joint; on entering one notices a South Melbourne Hellas vase, and that the walls are filled with framed articles and pictures of a long gone era, with the jewel in the crown being a copy of the South Melbourne Hellas Team of the Century painting. The proprietor of course is none other than South legend and Team of the Century member Jim Pyrgolios. After finishing off our meal, we sat nervously for awhile wondering how to approach Jim. In the end, my apparently superior Greek language skills made me the default choice. Jim invited us out to the back porch where we sat under thundery skies, going through old players and photographs. Rest assured that efforts are being made to preserve these artifacts for future generations.

Jim's memory was magnificent. Forty years on, after numerous championships as a player with South, and coaching stints as disparate as a minor premiership in NSL season 1992/93 and coaching Floreat Athena to a league and cup double, it was amazing how he remembered the first names and club origins of so many players, as well their positions and the clubs from which they came. As we handed him picture after picture to help us identify players, officials and grounds of yore, the most frequent comment was "kati omada" (what a team!), and who would be game enough to argue! Going back inside (he was meant to be working after all!), he pulled out one scrapbook and one photo-album from behind the counter. Inside were well preserved photos similar to the ones we had brought to him, as well as dozens of articles, including one which reported on him winning the 1971 Bill Fleming Medal. The standout item which floored all of us though, was a rare early photo, with the team clad in the original strip, in colour. Eventually the time came for us to go, but as there is still much more information to elicit, and many more fine souvlakia to feast on, we will return.

Throughout our time with Jim, one thing stood out. Here was a bloke who had played in the top flight for a top club in Greece, was a legendary striker in the glory days of 1960s and 70s Victorian soccer, who'd been assistant coach under no less than Ferenc Puskas, and yet his humility and generosity was pervasive. In another country, and perhaps another era, Pyrgolios would be feted as the legend that he is.

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